In a love triangle, often one person is given the ultimatum “them or me.” One lover is compared to some projected ideal, another is seen without rose-tinted glasses, and the third is forced to make a choice between glorified potential and resignation to simplicity. Petals for Armor is significant in its’ insightful exploration of this trinity.
Hayley Williams and Taylor York have been, for many of us, formative figures for well over a decade. They’ve continuously evolved; Hayley as a songwriting force and dynamic vocalist and Taylor as a prolific producer and musician. We all heard the huge sonic shift in After Laughter. I wasn’t ready for what PFA I, II, and III were going to offer.
The record gives us plenty of the past. There’s a definite thread of classic Paramore. Some of the production moves are vaguely reminiscent of the pop-driven Warped Tour in 2006. We hear a lot of Hayley’s signature vocal hooks and melody lines in songs like “Simmer,” “Over Yet,” and “Watch Me While I Bloom.”
Hayley’s lyrics have always seemed very autobiographical. These songs, along with a wave of vulnerable interviews, hint at an invitation for us to see her (all of us) at our darkest.
In “Leave It Alone,” she explores bittersweet irony and life-altering choices:
Don’t nobody tell me that God don’t have a sense of humor
‘Cause now that I want to live, well, everybody around me is dyin’
In “Dead Horse,” she unpacks her penchant to continue fighting in toxic relationships:
I beat it like a dead horse
I beat it like a drum
Oh, I stayed with you too long
Skipping like a record
I sang along
And now you get another song
The soft, close verses contrast the huge choruses in “Sudden Desire” with a vocal line like Bjork in her “Post” era. “Simmer” reminds me a lot of rhythmic indie 2005 Paramore in its’ guitar and drum work.
I think one thing we always get from Hayley and Taylor, as mentioned earlier, is evolution. The album begins dark and brooding, picking up with the upbeat “Over Yet”:
It’s the right time to come alive
Baby, if you wanna try
To get out of your head, yes, break a sweat
Baby, tell yourself it ain’t over yet
This song might be my favorite pop offering Hayley and Taylor have given us yet. Bassist Joey Howard particularly pops out in the chorus of this song with his funky, Bernard Howard-esque bass lines.
The shining star of the project is definitely “Pure Love.” The bass is reminiscent of the Mary Jane Girls, while Aaron Steele’s drums feel reminiscent of the rhythm section that birthed our favorite Toto songs. It contains, by far, my favorite vocal performance from Hayley. At this point in the record, we’re offered reflection and resolution to a lot of the questions posed earlier on in the tracklist. She sings,
If I want pure love
Must stop acting so tough
(I give a little, you give a little
We get a little sentimental)
If I want your love
Ooh, got to open up
(I give a little, you give a little
We get a little experimental)
The vocals in “Sugar on the Rim” are reminiscent of early Gaga. York’s production feels like walking onto the dance floor while “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer pounds through the soles of your feet.
The album concludes exquisitely with “Crystal Clear.”
This don’t feel anything like sinking
In fact, no matter how deep I go
Into you, it looks like the water is crystal clear.
I think it’s, ahem, crystal clear that Hayley has really outdone herself with this record. It is vulnerable and familiar; the past makes some strong appearances. Yet she makes an impactful, ambitious comment about music, love, and mental health. Taylor gave us some of the most impressive production work I’ve heard in a long time. Together, they gave us something that’s completely modern, exploratory, and most importantly, original.